Gluten-Free Travel

A laptop on a small wooden table outdoors, with a cup of water on the left and carrots and beet hummus on the right. Two pink flamingos and a potted plant are in the background.
I love being able to work or study anywhere (weather-permitting), but mealtimes while traveling require some creativity.

Finding gluten-free food on the road can be tough. This is not a post about finding gluten-free restaurants, or about all the magical gluten-free dining experiences a traveler with celiac disease might find if only they were brave enough or bold enough.

I am a super sensitive celiac. I am more sensitive than the average celiac, and it takes me longer to bounce back than many of my celiac peers. Once, I was glutened so badly by a careless restaurant that it took me over a year to feel “normal” again.

Consequently, we don’t eat out much.

So this is a post about where to find gluten-free groceries while traveling.

Even before RV life, when we traveled, we brought a suitcase for our clothes and a suitcase for our food. (The food suitcase was usually bigger.) RV travel has made eating on the road MUCH easier and simpler, but there’s a lot of overlap between how we handled food on the road with a car compared to how we handle food on the road in an RV.

an open cabinet containing an Instant Pot, stovetop pressure cooker, two sauce pans, and a covered mixer. The counter above the cabinet has an electric tea kettle and an ice maker. Hanging from each open cupboard door is a pair of oven mitts and a jar opening device.
We recently got an Instant Pot, which we love, and I kept my stovetop pressure cooker for those days when we might not have electricity or when we need a large stock pot. We’ve got a small and medium sauce pan, spare pressure cooker seals, oven mitts, a jar opener, an electric tea kettle, and a countertop ice maker. We also keep masking tape and a Sharpie marker on a nearby hook so that we can label leftovers and date open containers so nothing sits around too long.

Packing

BYOS: Bring your own Stuff.

What gadgets and condiments do you use every day? What’s a must-have for your suitcase or RV kitchen? Here’s our list of essentials:

  • We loved our Aroma Rice Cooker for years, until it finally stopped working at a nice old age. Now we can’t live without our 3 Quart Instant Pot.
  • Bamboo Cooking Utensils, which are super durable but inexpensive, so it’s not so heartbreaking if one is lost in transit.
  • Lightweight cutting board(s) are handy for food prep on any suspicious surface (like a hotel table or campground picnic table).
  • A paring knife and a serrated knife
  • Utensils: Now that we’re full-time RVers, we get to bring our metal utensils with us. But when car-tripping and nowadays when we want to save water and time, we always keep some kind of biodegradable cutlery on hand.
  • Paper towels in generous quantities.
  • Small bottle of dish soap and a sponge
  • An electric tea kettle, which we used for tea and mugs of veggie broth at the end of a chilly day.
  • Folding cooler with a shoulder strap, for keeping things cold and fresh– and for staying out of the way when not needed.

Stock up on essentials.

Everyone has favorite foods that are hard to find. For us, it’s vegan ranch dressing, Daiya cheese sauce, and nutritional yeast. We also bring San-J Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Packets (it’s actually tamari), and the Drogheria & Alimentari Four Seasons Peppercorns Mill (it’s the best grinder and pepper blend) because they’ll dress up anything in a pinch!

If you know there will be a grocery store or farmers market where you can safely purchase foods to enjoy raw or cook in your trusty rice cooker, but you might not be able to find your favorite barbecue sauce or sriracha– bring it along, and bring more than you think you’ll need. You might even make some new friends because you’ve got the best condiments at the campground!

Pantry shelves with multiple containers of Daiya cheese, Daiya salad dressing, and Califia Farms coffee creamer.
Our essentials: Daiya cheese sauce, some kind of shelf-stable vegan ranch dressing, and Califia Farms vanilla creamer. We could live without out them, but why should we?

Your Route and Your Destination

Find nearby grocery stores.

Many chains are run by parent companies so sister stores carry the same brands. If you’re like me and you know that Kroger brand Worcestershire sauce is safe for you, you might look for Kroger’s family of stores to find Fry’s, City Market, or King Soopers. If you know you can find safe food at Safeway, you might also try to find a Vons or Pak-n-Sav.

Get creative at convenience stores.

Nowadays, gas stations are getting creative. In 2014, Pilot Flying J truck stops announced healthier food options, and even if the restaurants aren’t safe (cross-contamination), we’ve seen fresh fruits, corn chips with guacamole, nuts, dried fruit, and gluten-free protein bars. We’ve bought carrots and hummus at Kwik Stops, and Justin’s Nut Butter packets all over the place.

Download apps before you go.

Most travel apps focus on food for people without celiac or allergies, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Amazon. If you’re a Prime member (and if you’re not, you should try Prime free for 30 days), you get discounts at Whole Foods, which is a gluten-free paradise. The Amazon app lets you pull up your discount QR-code and will also help you find the nearest Whole Foods Market with just a few taps.
  • Shipt grocery delivery will bring you groceries anywhere you’re staying (well, almost anywhere, boondockers!) but I’ve also used the app just to find out what grocery stores are in the area, so we could plan our shopping trips.
  • iExit is a pit stop finder, and it helps you find upcoming exits and the services offered. It’s great for gas stations and all kinds of shops from Petsmart to Home Depot.
  • Find Me Gluten Free is mainly for restaurants, but I’ve found plenty of natural foods stores with this app. (If you use this app for restaurants, celiacs beware: I’ve been glutened after trusting some of the reviews here. I realized later that many reviewers are not gluten-free for medical reasons.)

Meal and Snack Suggestions

Be Flexible

We’ve had stir fry for breakfast and grits for dinner because we needed something hearty to start the day and something light to end it. Sometimes you have to think outside the box about foods typically eaten at certain times of the day, and think more practically about whether or not you’ll have electricity, or if you’re trying use up bulkier ingredients to make room in your packs/pantries.

Have Fun!

Life with celiac is often a literal picnic for us. We don’t have to search for a restaurant that’s open or has adequate parking, and then worry about if they can cater to our needs. As long as we’ve planned ahead, we just need a good place to park, and we’re ready for a great meal with great company. We used to love going out to eat, but we long ago realized it’s not about the restaurant. It’s all about having fun experiences and spending time together.

Two cats sleeping next to each other.

Published on June 19, 2019.

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